To drive from Yorktown, Va., to San Francisco, Calif., would take a person 43 straight hours. That’s a long time to sit in a car.
Imagine riding a bike all that way. It seems like an outlandish thought, but it’s not. It’s what Fairmont resident Jayce Riley will be spending two months of his summer doing.
Jayce will be biking 3,785 miles across the United States throughout June and July. But his motivation for doing so isn’t because he’s an avid cyclist.
“I’m not like a road cyclist or a mountain biker or any of that stuff,” said Jayce, a graduate of Fairmont Senior High School who is currently a junior at Fairmont State University, where he’s majoring in exercise science. “I don’t think I’ve even ridden a bike the past three years.”
So what would possess Jayce to undertake this journey? He’s participating in “Bike the US for MS” in honor of his mother, who had multiple sclerosis (MS) and passed away in 2014.
Honoring an amazing mother
It’s estimated that more than 400,000 people in the United States have MS, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. It is “an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body,” states the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Its cause is unknown.
Jayce’s mother, Jamie (Feltz) Riley, battled MS for 13 years, and passed away from it when Jayce was a senior in high school.
“She was an amazing, amazing mother,” Jayce said. “She was such a loving person. She cared for so many different people, and was always willing to accommodate others.”
He recalled how strict she was with him when he was a child in school, pushing him to be the best person he could be.
“When I’m going to college, I’m using all this knowledge that she gave me, all these lessons … and I think it’s made me the person I am today,” he said. “Without her, I don’t know who I would be. I really don’t know.”
A year after his mother passed away, Jayce’s cousin participated in the Bike the US for MS program.
“Since then I knew I wanted to do it, but it was just a matter of time,” he said.
A cross-country trek
Bike the US for MS started in 2007 to raise funds for MS treatment and research, as well as to raise awareness about the disease. There are various pre-plotted courses cyclists can take; Jayce will be part of a team of bicyclists on the TransAmerica Route.
There are about 14 people in his team so far, and Jayce said they’ve been getting to know one another through online posts. Teammates live in nearby states, as well as other countries, such as Bill Slott, hailing from Kibbutz Ketura, Israel, and Bart and Mirjam Van Slageren, who come from Purmerend, Netherlands, and will be making the trip on a tandem bike.
Participants are asked to raise at least $3,785, which is $1 for every mile they will be biking.
“Almost 50 percent of that is going to go directly toward MS research and other things that they deem worthy of getting some money,” Jayce said. “The other 50 percent is going to go toward us. It’s going to buy our uniforms, our meals, water along the way, some spare bike parts, gas for our van that carries all of our supplies.”
After departing on June 1, the cyclists can pretty much set their own pace, Jayce said, riding around six to eight hours each day. As it’s not feasible to bike on the main routes, such as interstates, he said they will be taking a course that uses more backroads.
“It’s a lot of America that you don’t get to see.”
Along the 3,785 miles, he’ll bike through nine states, taking pictures and doing some sightseeing. He’ll share his journey through Facebook and Instagram pages, where he’ll post photos frequently to update followers.
As the team makes stops for lunch or to camp at night, they’ll be wearing Bike the US for MS shirts, and traveling with a van emblazoned with the same message. Jayce said they’ll talk with people and media outlets along the way to raise awareness of MS. And that effort has started already.
“Even here in Fairmont, I’ve had a lot of people that have come up to me and talked to me about it since they knew that I was going to be doing this,” he said. “It’s been awesome to hear people’s stories like that too.”
Although Jayce has been gearing up for his journey on stationary bikes at the Fairmont State campus, he doesn’t yet have a very necessary component: a bike.
“I’m gonna get one pretty soon,” he said, adding that he’s been looking at some online. A few friends have offered to lend him a bike, but he said being 6-foot 2-inches makes finding a bike that works for his frame a difficult match.
Separate from the fundraising efforts through the Bike the US for MS site, Jayce is also raising funds for himself to buy his bike, as well as other necessary gear, such as a helmet and camping necessities. These donations are being collected at jars set up at the Fairmont and Bridgeport Hermosilla’s Deli Markets, where Jayce works.
While he’s on the trip, his family will be supporting him, as he said he anticipates they’ll be sending care packages and letters to him along the way. Jayce said they also plan to visit him in Blacksburg, Va., and at a stop in Kentucky.
“They might not be there with me all the time, but they’ll be back at home sending me messages and videos and pictures.”
Reactions about the trip from friends have been varied, but Jayce said he thinks his mom would have thought it was crazy.
“After a week long of her not believing me, she would have got on board, she would have helped me,” he said. “She definitely would have supported me through anything that I would ever want to do, especially a bike ride across America.”